Sustainability in the Workplace for Remote Teams: What to Know cover

Sustainability in the Workplace for Remote Teams: What to Know

Download this toolkit in pdf

Share This Post

7 minutes

Everyone has heard about remote work’s positive impact on productivity and work-life balance. We’ve seen the news articles about remote workers feeling more productive and earning more than their office-based counterparts. We’ve also seen the reports about vacant office buildings, and the arguments that return-to-office mandates are just about businesses recouping their spending on real estate. But there’s more to the dialogue surrounding sustainability in the workplace.

Pre-pandemic, in 2018, only 5% of work days were fully remote, whereas it has been around a consistent 30% since 2021. With less of the workforce needing to clock in at a specific place at a set time, remote work has also brought about some environmental benefits.

How Reduced Commuting Contributes to Sustainability in the Workplace

With fewer people packed like sardines on the subway and fewer cars on the road, work-related travel has plummeted. But let’s paint a clearer picture here. Even though many have transitioned to remote work, a huge bulk of the population still commutes – it’s just that the average commute time has decreased.

Although not everyone has the option of working from wherever they please, the remote work era has shifted how people see work. Some might have decided that they won’t accept a role that requires more than a thirty-minute commute and are placing more of a priority on flexible or personal and family time.

To put things into perspective, transportation accounted for around 14% of total global greenhouse gas emissions in 2022. Now, this does include plane travel. But you might be surprised to find out that diesel and petrol cars emit 19g to 23g more greenhouse gases than short and long-haul flights.

According to Scientific American, working remotely can reduce a person’s carbon footprint by up to 29% to 54%, depending on how many days a week they work from home. This reduction does require workers to be more eco-conscious. They have to remember to turn off lights or unplug appliances when not in use.

That said, the positive effects of less air pollution and improved health are too good to miss out on. When we make an effort towards environmental sustainability in business, it can foster dramatic improvements in the health of the planet and population.

Flexibility and Sustainable Lifestyles

Sustainability in the workplace does not just mean eco-friendliness. It also means living a lifestyle that won’t lead to burnout. Because of location independence, traditional notions of where we can work are changing. But it’s essentially how we are able to conduct our lives where the impact is most rewarding.

The old, office-centric work structures had always been unyielding. Rigid schedules and long commutes would eat into time with loved ones or in pursuit of passion projects. Ultimately, this inflexibility tipped the scales of work-life balance. The hours we once spent waiting for the bus or schmoozing at work has given us much of what we cherish most, and that’s time. We have more leeway in our schedules and can capitalize on times of the day when we feel most productive.

And that lifestyle change also extends back to the notion of sustainability, giving us a big opportunity to be mindful about our consumption. Some professionals bring packed lunches, while others take advantage of disposables and take-out. But using plastic spoons and forks affect the environment over time. It’s not just one plastic bottle or a plastic spoon – they’re single-use disposables that can take up to 450 years to break down.

Being away from the office means people are less likely to use these disposable utensils. We can also cook fresh meals, potentially with locally sourced ingredients. More time at home can also breed bigger changes in waste management habits, encouraging people to waste less and recycle more.

Sustainability in the Workplace and Energy Efficiency

Conventional offices have an always-on culture, with lighting, office equipment, HVAC systems, and more running constantly throughout the day, even after working hours. In 2018, for instance, commercial buildings in the U.S. consumed a total of 6,787 trillion BTUs, with offices consuming the most energy, after warehouses. Offices aren’t the most energy-efficient space out there. While we can choose to switch off lights in other sections of our homes and only turn on appliances when needed, these practices aren’t always feasible in corporate spaces.

Environmental Challenges of Working from Home

Yet with so many of us working from home, this could result in an increase in residential energy consumption. While we move away from the collectivist working style of large offices, we essentially diffuse our energy costs among many individual homes. It’s true that that strain is reduced on commercial buildings, but what about residential energy use? If a company isn’t already using cloud technology and is still relying on localized data centers, the demand created by everyone's online activities could be substantial.

Some may even choose to work longer hours and spread their day out, which exacerbates that energy consumption. It’s an unfortunate side effect of the many benefits of remote work, which reminds us that we need to manage these challenges as individuals and as a collective.

Technology and Digitalization

Besides energy efficiency, remote workers must also think of digitalization and its impact on sustainability in the workplace. Remote work is made possible by the multitude of digital technologies that support it and inadvertently contribute to sustainability in business. For one, rather than relying on hardware and paper filing systems, remote workers use digital solutions.

Location-independent professionals also rely less on in-person meetings. Instead, they coordinate through platforms like Slack and Microsoft Teams, or through video conferencing software like Zoom. These tools facilitate cloud-based storage, virtual collaborations, and online document creation, which removes the need for physical resources or in-person meetings.

Environmental Challenges of Relying on Digital Tools

As with any developments and changes, there are still challenges associated with the switch to digital tools. Working online comes with its own set of environmental challenges, including energy consumption and electronic waste.

When devices reach the end of their life, their parts need to be recycled or disposed of carefully. And although we touched on how remote work can decrease energy in numerous ways, our digital devices still require power. Those data centers that keep our information safely stored are also massive power consumers, accounting for an entire 1 – 1.3% of the global electricity demand.

How Remote Collaboration Contributes to Sustainability in the Workplace

Still, collaboration tools like Zoom and Slack make it easier than ever to work with people wherever they are. These project management and conferencing platforms allow companies to work on projects, brainstorm, and create innovative products without having to conduct business trips.

The amount of carbon emissions saved by substituting environmentally damaging flights with a few clicks to join a virtual meeting is astounding. It’s just another impressive way remote work contributes to environmental sustainability in business.

Environmental Challenges of a Globally Distributed Team

Having a distributed team also has its disadvantages. With team members logging in at all hours of the day all around the world, there might not be set operational hours for certain businesses anymore. Whether employees need to keep their lights on for longer or run certain devices for an extended period, there’s bound to be an uptick in electricity usage.

While it’s true that remote workers reduce physical waste and traveling emissions, they rely heavily on worldwide data centers. It may be argued, though, that the nature of work today means companies have to use data centers anyway, whether they work in an office or at home. All things considered, remote work still presents a way for companies to minimize their electricity consumption.

How to Mitigate Environmental Challenges of Remote Work

We’re undoubtedly seeing visible reductions in consumption because of remote work, especially in office waste and commuting emissions. On the other hand, this new style of work raises other concerns. So, how exactly do we strike a balance? How do we make sure that regardless of work style, we put the importance of sustainability in business top of mind?

Energy-Efficient Home Offices

Employees working from home offices can invest in energy-efficient appliances, take advantage of community programs that offer renewable energy, and even alter their schedules to take advantage of natural light. There are many creative ways to adopt a greener work life, and companies can encourage this through awareness training and by providing employees with allowances for energy-efficient home office items.

Even those cliché and seemingly inconsequential steps like using LED bulbs and switching things off when not in use can have an immense impact on sustainability. LEDs alone use up to 90% less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs and last up to 25 times longer.

Digital Practices and Data Management

Our devices allow us to access the remote work environment, and upgrading energy-hungry hardware is often the first step to reducing power consumption. Devices tend to consume more power as they age and decrease in efficiency, which is why we need to do our due diligence and keep our hardware up-to-date as well.

Companies can also ditch their reliance on physical servers that consume an unbelievable amount of energy for cooling and operational purposes and choose cloud-based storage solutions instead. This removes the need for data centers, makes data more accessible, and even improves security all at the same time.

Communication and Sustainability in the Workplace

We’re spoiled for choice when it comes to business tools and platforms to make communication easier. If we look at these tools through an eco-friendly lens, though, we’ll see that not all of them have the mark of sustainability. Certain companies choose to contribute to the bigger picture – maybe they use renewable energy for their servers or commit to carbon offsetting initiatives. Others don’t explicitly have green goals and don’t list sustainable business as one of their priorities.

The easiest way to communicate with your remote team sustainably is to use asynchronous communication tools. What that refers to is non-real-time, non-face-to-face communication that requires a back-and-forth or an immediate response. Leaning into asynchronous tools like Google Docs and recorded video screen shares rather than synchronous ones can be a godsend for productivity. It lets teams work when they’re most productive and encourages much higher-quality collaboration.

But what does this have to do with sustainability? Well, because asynchronous tools aren’t constantly running, it reduces the time device screens are being kept alive and results in less strain on energy resources.

Modified Remote Work Policies

Just as there are rules when you show up to a traditional office, forward-thinking companies should implement rules for remote work as well. It’s common to have policies around cybersecurity and downtime, but established environmental considerations could be the new norm for environmental sustainability in the workplace.

Take a moment to imagine work policies with guidelines on topics like e-waste minimization, creating an eco-friendly home office, and energy conservation for remote workers. An exciting and encouraging pamphlet can inspire and motivate employees to work in a way that aligns with the overarching sustainability goals of the company.

Environmental Sustainability is a Must in Business

It’s more apparent than ever – consumers love businesses that demonstrate a commitment to sustainability, and for these businesses, championing sustainability starts from within.

Making the switch to a remote or hybrid work structure can touch upon all sorts of environmental benefits, ranging from commuting emissions to less waste. But it’s just as valuable to acknowledge that remote work comes with its own caveats – ones that can be offset through smart tactics. Remote work isn’t solely about increased productivity or work-life balance anymore – it’s a movement that plays a part in the bigger goal of a more sustainable future.

Wing offers virtual assistants for startups and enterprises so you can delegate tasks to a full-time team member month to month. The built-in Wing Workspace helps you communicate, delegate, train, and manage your team in an asynchronized manner, whether it’s through a screen recording or workflow and task systems. Unlimited cloud storage lets you store your company files safely and securely, all while offsetting pressure on data centers.

So why not elevate your business operations by hiring one of the top 0.5% virtual assistants from Wing? If you want to harness the convenience of remote talent and use a sustainable digital tool, book a meeting with Wing and transform your business model today.

Table of Contents

Virtual Assistants to Make Work and
Life Better

Wing is a fully managed, dedicated virtual assistant experience designed to help startups and SMB teams offload time consuming, yet critical tasks and focus on things that matter.